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Efficient use of the English language is one of the surest ways to communicate research effectively. Whether you are writing a research proposal or an article, using precise and unambiguous language can greatly improve your chances of success.
English academic papers usually have a standard article structure that must be followed when preparing journal submissions. Elsevier Author Services has compiled a list of sentence structures and patterns to help you with manuscript writing and to increase your chances of publication.
So, what exactly do you need to know to craft effective sentences?
English is quite flexible as a language, with multiple ways to construct a sentence, some not very effective in piquing and holding the reader’s curiosity. However, there are some recognizable elements and patterns that are often used for framing engaging sentences in English.
The Basic Elements
Sentences in English consist of two main elements – a subject and a verb. The subject refers to the person or thing the sentence is about, and the verb refers to the action being performed.
Consider the sentence ‘Dr. Mann is fact-checking the first draft’. Here, Dr Mann, the subject, answers the question ‘Who is the sentence about?’ and fact-checking, the verb, answers the question ‘What is he doing?’.
Sometimes, instead of an active verb like ‘fact-check’ or ‘write’, sentences have a stative verb that describes a state of being. For example, ‘approves’ functions as a stative verb in ‘Dr. Mann approves of the finding’.
Active and Passive Sentences
Depending on how you structure a sentence, emphasis can shift between the subject or the actor and the verb or the action.
In active sentences, the subject takes centre stage. For example, in the sentence ‘Cooper collected the data’, the focus is on the subject, Cooper. Active sentences have the advantage of being direct and crisp.
In passive sentences, the focus is instead on the verb. Consider the sentence ‘Data collection was performed by Cooper’. This passive sentence draws the readers’ attention to the action being performed rather than the actor.
In academic writing, employing passive and active sentences in the right places can ensure that readers pay attention to the essential details and ignore the non-essential ones.
Easy-to-read sentences can increase the accessibility and reach of your scholarly work. However, because science deals with complex concepts, you may need to use longer sentences to convey your ideas clearly.
In general, include a healthy mix of the four basic sentence patterns in academic writing, listed below, to ensure that you communicate ideas effectively without making the reading hard or monotonous. The patterns are differentiated based on the number of dependent and independent clauses they contain. A ‘clause’ is simply a subject-verb pair. An independent clause is a subject-verb pair that makes sense by itself, and a dependent clause is a pair that does not.
Basic Patterns of Sentences
- A simple sentence consists of a single independent clause.
For example: The doctor surgically removed a kidney stone.
- A compound sentence has at least two independent clauses connected by a semicolon or conjunction (‘for’, ‘and’, or ‘nor’).
For example: The doctor surgically removed a kidney stone and it weighed 20 milligrams.
- A complex sentence has at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause.
For example: The doctor surgically removed a kidney stone, weighing 20 milligrams, from the body of a 60-year-old woman.
- A compound-complex sentence has at least two independent clauses and one dependent clause.
For example: The doctor surgically removed a kidney stone, weighing 20 milligrams, from the body of a 60-year-old woman; the surgery was successful and the patient recovered quickly.
Common sentence structure errors in academic writing
1. Subject-verb agreement
(a) When two or more nouns are joined using or, nor, either…or, or neither…nor, the verb used should agree with the closest subject if one is singular and the other is plural. For example:
- Neither my sister nor my brothers are coming to the party.
- Neither my brother nor my sister is coming to the party.
(b) Collective nouns require singular verbs when referred to as a group and plural verbs when referred to as individuals. For example:
- The class is divided into several groups for the Science project.
- Members of the committee are aware of their responsibilities.
2. Sentence fragments
A sentence fragment is a group of words that requires additional information to express a complete idea. For example:
Incorrect: If this experiment works
Correct: If this experiment works, we will be able to prove our hypothesis.
3. Run-on sentences
A run-on sentence is formed when two independent clauses are combined into one sentence without proper punctuation. For example:
Incorrect: I love to watch movies I would watch one every day if I had the time.
Correct: I love to watch movies, and I would watch one every day if I had the time.
Although academic writing styles differ depending on the field of study and the journal requirements, they do follow a standard article structure. The flow and order of content, ranging from introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion, are crucial when preparing any article for journal submission. In this series, Elsevier brings you a compilation of writing styles and sentence writing patterns with suitable examples, that can guide you through the difficulties of sentence construction when writing your paper.
Perfecting sentences in your manuscript may take time. But the results are often worth the effort.
Need help with improving your academic writing? Contact experienced professionals at Elsevier Author Services, who are ready to assist you.